Disclaimer: I do not own Perry Mason. He is the creation of Erle Stanley Gardner. I simply borrowed him for the purpose of telling this story. Neither am I a lawyer. In fact, I have no legal training so I am sure there are plenty of legal mistakes. Please take this fan fiction for the purpose it is intended … pure entertainment.
Keep in mind I write all stories in the present not when the shows aired on television. I prefer … shall we say the modern conveniences. It adds a completely new dimension to the story. I have written many cross over stories for Perry Mason, combining him with the San Francisco Detective Chief Robert T. Ironside. If you have not already guessed, I am a big Raymond Burr fan. I thought it was about time I let Perry solve a case without the Ironman on Wheels.
If you have never read my crossovers, they all follow a timeline. All of them, including this story are written to also stand-alone. However, occasionally there may be statements that refers back to another story.
Thanks for your interest and I hope you enjoy the story.
The Case of the Neglectful Fireman
Seth Palmer took another letter out of his mail box at the firehall. It was the third one within a month. Seth did not have to open it to know what was in it. He had been hoping that it was all just a bad dream. However, he knew that ignoring the problem would not make it go away. On the other hand, he didn't know what to do.
Sooner or later he was going to have to respond to the blackmailer. Why were cameras ever put in cell phones? If he could only get his hands on the idiot who came up with that idea.
The video had been emailed to him. That night he had been at the table with his fellow fireman, Seth's smartphone beeped, indicating a new message. Seth did not recognize the email address. He had been losing all evening at the table playing poker with his buddies. They were coming down to the end of their twenty four hour shift. It had been quiet at the station. There had been no fires.
"Anti up," Monte Skinner said.
"Deal me out," Seth told Monte. He got up, left the table and headed downstairs He stood beside the fire truck he usually rode. He pulled out his smartphone and opened the email program. The email address read firecoward12 . The address was not in his address book. He noticed there was a video attached to the email. Seth pushed the link. A second later the video came up on the screen of the phone. He recognized the scene immediately. It was the Claymore Apartment building fire. Palmer's stomach immediately went sour. His hands began to show perspiration. His head spinned. No! Not that particular fire! He did not want relive that day again.
It had been his first fire. He would never forget it, although he had tried everyday for the last five years. It had been eating away at him to the point of causing nightmares. In fact it had been the same reoccurring dream that materialized two, sometimes three days a week. Every time it was the same and he ended up waking to the sound of his own screaming. It was bad enough he had to live with knowing what he did. It was even worse that he got no peace when he closed his eyes at night.
One week after he received the video, Seth received another email. This time there was no video attached to the email. It contain only the words 'Time to pay the piper'. Palmer did not know what to think. Was this some kind of sick joke? Who could have taken that video? He kept running that day over in his mind. He could only come to the one conclusion that to him was unthinkable ... it had to be another fireman. There could be no other explanation.
Since that second email, three letters had been placed in his mail at the station. Each time the author threaten to expose him. The video would be turned over to the Los Angeles Times unless he paid a sum of one hundred thousand dollars.
How would anyone have any idea that he had that kind of money. Palmer had come to LA from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where his father had won five hundred thousand dollars in the lottery. When his father died, he left Seth's step-mother three hundred thousand dollars, along with the house. Seth inherited one hundred fifty thousand, his father having spent the rest.
Palmer had not gotten along with his step-mother. It was difficult to like someone who detested you.
He left the only home he had ever known and joined his childhood friend, Monte Skinner. Monte had talked him in to going back to school. Eventually Seth followed Monte into the fire fighting business.
After his first terrifying experience, he thought he had made the biggest mistake of his life. Palmer lived every day of his life with guilt and fear, fear of reacting the same way when the next fire broke out. That was not to be the case. After getting over the jitters, he forgot his fear and performed as any good fire fighter did. From that day on Seth Palmer performed his job admirably and even had been decorated on five occasions.
He had grown to love his job. He could not imagine doing anything else. But now the job he loved was in jeopardy. He had to find someway to deal with the blackmailer. He lost his mother and then his father. He had no other family. His family had become his fellow fire fighters. He could not lose the only thing in his life that meant anything to him.
"Seth! Seth!" shouted Monte. "Come on, man! You are holding up the game and it is only two hours to quitting time."
"Alright, I'm coming." Seth put his smartphone back in his pocket and headed back to the game.
"Perry, we are not leaving this office until the mail is finished. It is so far behind I just cannot let you put it off." Della scolded he boss.
"Della, anything that was of importance has already been handled by David Gideon. What appointments do we have on the calendar today?" Perry asked.
"We have a gentleman by the name of Seth Palmer at one o'clock. Mr. Rogan will be here at two to have you go over the sale of the one division of his corporation. Let me see ... Edward Bronson wants to see you regarding defending him against an embezzlement charge. The others are routine."
"I thought I told you to turn Rogan over to Taylor and Jones. They handle divorce cases. I will handle the corporation's legal problems. The money is too good to turn down ... if it is corporation business, which I doubt. Jan is divorcing him. My guess is he is going to try to talk me into handling his divorce and I am not interested in doing that. I hate handling warring couples."
"I will head him off then if it is his divorce but I assume you will see him if it is not." Della sat on the edge of Perry's desk.
"Just make sure it is not the divorce," Perry said. "What about Seth... what did you say his last name was?"
"Palmer, Seth Palmer," Della said.
"What does he want to see me about?"
"He is a fireman. He said he needs some advice on something a friend received. He said his friend is being harassed."
"The old I have a friend who needs advice." Perry shook his head. "Sounds like Mr. Palmer is in trouble. Talk to him before you bring him in the office. If you think he is indeed in trouble then bring him in. But if you think he really is here for a friend then tell him to come back with the friend."
"In the meantime ..." Perry reached up and took Della's hand. "Come here." He stood up and gently pulled Della off of his desk. Pulling her close to him, Perry bent down and brushed his lips against hers. Feeling her respond, he pressed his lips to hers in a passionate kiss. Della gently pushed Perry away. "We agreed not to do this during office hours."
"You agreed, not me," Perry breathed heavily.
"The mail, Chief. Then we go to lunch."
Perry frowned. "The mail can wait one more day. We have not spent hardly any time alone in a while. Why don't we go over to my apartment. We can be back for the afternoon appointments." He reached for her again but she dodged him and moved to thr front of his desk.
"The mail, Mr. Mason. And we have not spent time together because you took a case in Washington D.C. defending Jim Whitmore."
"Was I supposed to turn down the president of the United States?"
Della laughed. "It was not the president you could not refuse, it was your brother."
Perry smiled. "Bob is a very persuasive man. Besides look at all the business it has brought us. Gertie can not keep up with the phones."
"Which reminds me, Perry. You should either give her a bonus or a raise. She has gone above and beyond for this office between handling things while we were in Washington and that phone has been glued to her ear since we got back."
"You are the head of this office. If you think she should have a raise, then give her one. At the same time give yourself a raise."
"Perry, you just gave me a raise three months ago."
Mason walked around the desk. "Della, I could give you a raise every day of the week it still would not be enough. Not for what you do for me in this office. Without you I wouldn't have an office or a practice for that matter."
Della Street looked up at her boss. She smiled and said, "For which you pay me more than any other confidential secretary in the city of Los Angeles."
"You are much more then a secretary to me, Della. You must know I would do anything for you ... anything."
"Anything?" Della asked.
"Anything," Perry replied, smiling with the twinkle in his eye.
"I am glad to hear that Mr Mason. There is something you can do for me."
Perry Mason smiled, his dimples prominent down both sides of his jaw. "You just name it, Della."
Della picked up a handful of mail from his desk. She smiled at him and said, "you said anything."
"I walked right into that one." Perry chuckled. He strolled around his desk, sat down in his chair and said, "Alright Miss Street, but you could have had a trip to Paris."
"I'll settle for a quiet lunch for two when this mail is finished." Della picked up the first envelope.
"It's a date. Let's get started. The sooner we get it done, the more time will have together for lunch," Perry plunged into what he knew would be a very boring morning.
Monte Skinner reached in to his mailbox. He had not checked it since he came into work twenty-four hours earlier. In fact, he did not want to check it. Would there be another one of those letters in it? Someone was trying to blackmail Skinner and the information he had could never become public. If it did, he would not only lose his job, he would be serving time in a prison somewhere. No, Monte simply had to find out who was blackmailing him and find a way to stop him.
He remembered that fateful day so long ago when two of his fellow firefighters joined him in Charlie's Bar. That night they made the proposal to him that would change the course of his life. It had made him a very rich man. All five of the men involved had very large overseas bank accounts.
Monte had developed ulcers over the past five years. He worried constantly about being exposed. He had been hospitalized once because the ulcer had started bleeding into his stomach. After surgery and six weeks off from work, he had returned to the firehouse. One would think it would have been enough to end their illegal dealing. But no, the money was more temptation than he could resist. After all, he already had enough money to put both of his sons through college and then some.
His wife had expensive taste and did not seem to realize that they could not afford the type of life style she wanted to live. He had been devastated to find out she had been carrying on an affair with a rich playboy. Expensive things began showing up in their house … things Monte knew she did not have the money to purchase. She was a stay at home mom and had no source of income other than his fireman's paycheck.
Joyce Skinner announced that she would be going home to Chicago to visit her sick sister. Since there was no way Monte could object to the purpose, he decided to let her go without complaint. After putting the boys to bed, Monte went quietly back down the stair. Joyce was on the phone. She was planning her rendezvous with the man who had become her lover.
Monte confronted her and they had a terrible fight. The only thing that kept them together was the boys. The problem was Monte loved Joyce even more than he did the day he married her. He promised her he would be a better provider. He had been offered something that would mean more money for him, her and the boys.
It was then that Monte had accepted Mitch Donaldson and Denny Boulder's proposal. He knew it was wrong. It did not just border on criminal, it was criminal and he knew it. He could not help himself. He could not lose Joyce. With Joyce would go the boys, if she left him. So, he became involved in a scheme that he would never forgive himself but could not stop.
Then the letters started appearing in his mailbox. The demands for money began. He had already paid several times and still the blackmailer demanded more. The sad thing was he had no choice but to keep paying. Otherwise, his life could come crumbling down around him.
Denny Boulder came up behind him. "So you are getting them too?"
Monte jerked and turned swiftly. "Getting what?" He said as he stuffed the letter into his pocket.
"Blackmail, Monte. Do not deny it. I am getting them too. So are Mitch, Burt and Marcus. The question is what are we all going to do about it?"
"I don't know. I just keep paying him. I don't know what else to do," Monte said, lowering his head.
"We are meeting in the café across the street. We have to discuss it and come up with a solution. All of us have been paying whoever is doing this and if we don't stop, all of the money will be gone."
"Maybe it is for the best. My stomach is acting up again. The pain has been becoming unbearable. When the money is gone, then maybe I will have some peace again."
"You're dreaming, Monte. Whoever is doing this will force us to keep going and we will be turning over all the money to him. He has to be stopped."
"That is what we are going to discuss at the café. First, we have to find out who is doing it and then put a stop to it. Are you going to join us?" Denny asked.
Monte looked at his friend and co-worker. "Yes, I'm joining you."
Perry watched Della. She was eating a salad and seemed to be enjoying it. Perry had opted for a ham and cheese on rye. Della had insisted on soft drinks. She told him she did not want the clients smelling alcohol on their breath when they came in this afternoon. "You know I would have bought you anything you wanted for lunch." He smiled at her that smile that was reserved for her only.
"I am having what I want, Perry," she responded.
"I like a salad too but as a side. You need something more substantial," he insisted.
"Not if I am to watch my waistline."
Perry smiled. "There is nothing wrong with your waistline … and I watch it enough for both of us."
"You won't be if it grows considerably."
"Della, it would make no difference to me if you were chubby and plump. I would love you anyway," he said grinning.
"Well, I would not love me so if you don't mind, I'll watch what I eat, especially since you are always feeding me," she said with a smile.
Perry wanted nothing more than to take a hold of her hand and kiss it but that was something they both refrained from in public. They were in the gossip columns enough as it was. Therefore, the lawyer had to be content with looking at his beautiful lunch companion.
"Perry, we should get back to the office. Seth Palmer will be arriving shortly."
Mason called for the waitress. She finished writing their dinner bill and handed it to him. Deanne loved waiting on the handsome couple. Mr. Mason was always pleasant and he was a big tipper. Not to mention, he was a very handsome man. If his secretary had any sense at all, she would latch on to him before some other woman did. He would not be single long if the women in Los Angeles had their way.
Mason pulled out his wallet. He removed enough to cover the bill and added a twenty five percent tip. He handed it back to Deanne, smiled and said, "Thanks, everything was just fine." He took Della by the elbow and lawyer headed back to the office.
"Any calls, Gertie?" Mason said as he and Della walked into the office.
"The phone has not quit ringing, Mr. Mason. It has not stopped since you and Miss Street got back from Washington. I put several messages on Miss Street's desk that I think you should take a look at." The phone rang again. Gertie picked it up and said, Perry Mason's office, may I help you."
Perry nodded at Della and they both went into his office. "Della, can you make some coffee?"
"Coming up, Chief." Della picked up the coffee pot and disappeared. A few minutes later Perry could smell coffee brewing. Perry certainly could make his own coffee but he much preferred Della's.
Della came back into the office with a cup of coffee and set it down in front of Mason. The phone on his desk rang. Della picked it up. "Yes, Gertie."
"Miss Street, Mr. Palmer is here for his appointment with Mr. Mason," Gertie said.
"I'll be right out, Gertie. Have him sit down." Della left her boss's office and went out into her office. "Mr. Palmer, I am Della Street, Mr. Mason's confidential secretary. Could you tell me why you would like to see Mr. Mason?" Della scrutinized the young man. He was at least six feet tall with brown hair, of which a lock lay across his forehead. He appeared to be very nervous and Della noticed his palms were sweating.
"I have a friend that may be in a lot of trouble. I would like to see Mr. Mason for some advice for him," Palmer told her.
"Mr. Mason ordinarily prefers the individual seeking the advice come into his office. He does not care for relaying advice through a third party," Della told him.
"Do you mean that Mr. Mason will not see me?" Seth asked.
"I did not say that, Mr. Palmer. Simply that Mr. Mason likes to talk face to face with the people he gives advice to." Della continued watching him. His face took on a look of panic. Della was certain this young man was not here for anyone but himself. "If you will wait here, I will talk to Mr. Mason and find out if he will see you under the circumstances. Please wait right here."
Della opened the door to Mason's office, walked in and shut it. "Well, Della, what do you think?"
"He's scared Perry. He says he is here for someone else but I would bet a year's pay that he is in some kind of trouble. I think you should see him."
"Alright, Della. Bring him in." Mason watched as Della disappeared from his office. He depended on Della's intuition. It had become invaluable over the years. If she thought the young man was in trouble, then the young man was in trouble.
A moment later, the door opened and Della walked in with Seth Palmer. Mr. Palmer, this is Mr. Mason."
Perry stood up behind his desk and offered his hand across it. Palmer shook hands with the lawyer and said. "Yes, I know who Mr. Mason is. His picture has been in the papers all over the country."
"Sit down, Mr. Palmer and tell me what I can do for you," Mason said with a smile to set his guest at ease.
Palmer sat down and prepared to tell this man something he had kept to himself for five years.